Teen’s family sues school board, alleges it failed to address racist attacks

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The family of a black Ontario teen is suing a Toronto-area school board, alleging officials at his high school failed to properly investigate and prevent months of racist bullying and attacks by white students.

In a statement of claim filed last week, the family says the teen, identified only as E.H., was the target of racist verbal and physical attacks as well as threats from September through last month.

They allege the incidents were repeatedly reported to officials at his Newmarket, Ont., high school, but the complaints were not properly investigated.

The family further alleges administrators responded by suspending the teen multiple times along with his harassers, who are not identified in the document.

The statement of claim says that as a result of the violent bullying, E.H. suffered several injuries — including a concussion — and became anxious, fearful and at times suicidal.

The allegations have not been tested in court and the York Region District School Board has not yet filed a statement of defence. But its director of education issued a statement denouncing racism and violence.

“It is heartbreaking to see anti-black racism manifest itself in any form, particularly through violence. Such actions are not acceptable in our schools or communities,” Louise Sirisko said in the statement.

“We take anti-black racism extremely seriously and put in place supports for those affected, however, this is not the experience we want for any of our students. We are sorry for the hurt this experience is causing.”

The teen’s family alleges the board was negligent in addressing what was happening to E.H. and failed in its duty to ensure a safe environment for him. It is seeking $1 million in damages as well as the reimbursement for the costs of the legal action.

“In spite of a safe schools policy, a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and physical aggression, and an anti-racism policy, no one at the YRDSB took action to protect E.H. In fact, YRDSB’s actions in suspending E.H., added insult to injury,” the statement of claim says.

“Due to a combination of the continued harassment, bullying and assaults, of which YRDSB was aware, E.H’s grades and school performance began to drop. The pain, anxiety, stress, feelings of insecurity, and lack of safety at school made it difficult for E.H. to stay focused and attend school.”

The statement of claim says the incidents began at the start of the school year, when a group of Grade 11 and 12 students hurled racist insults and threats at E.H., including telling him to “go and kill himself.”

The document alleges the harassment was reported to school officials and both the perpetrators and E.H. were suspended.

The following month, E.H. was suspended again for being in a fight, when in fact he was defending himself from his attackers, the document alleges. The school would not confirm whether the other students were disciplined, the family claims. The same thing happened again a few weeks later, it says.

On several occasions, E.H.’s mother asked that he be transferred to another school, but that request was denied, the document says. Administrators also made repeated promises to keep the teen safe and look into the bullying, the claim says.

The harassment continued in person and on social media over the next few months, it says. In February, E.H.’s harassers pushed him down the school’s main staircase, the document alleges.

Later that month, the teen’s head was slammed into a porcelain water fountain, an attack that was recorded and distributed on social media, it alleges. There were other incidents in the following weeks that resulted in suspensions, it says.

The statement of claim says that when E.H. returned to the school in April to pick up his belongings, he was arrested by police because someone made a false report that he had brought weapons to school.

The teen’s mother then contacted police to report the April incidents, which led officers to charge two of the other students with assault, the statement alleges.

The lawsuit alleges the school should have reported the incidents to police, the students’ parents and the Children’s Aid Society.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press